Rebels seize Gaddafi frontier bases

UMM AL-FAR, Libya (AFP) - Libyan rebels seized two localities near the Tunisian border on Thursday as part of their pre-Ramadan offensive aimed at unseating strongman Moamer Gaddafi, an AFP correspondent said. The first was the town of Al-Ghazaya, some 12 kilometres (nine miles) from the frontier and the second was Umm Al-Far, a hamlet of a few hundred inhabitants 10 kilometres northeast of there. The assault on Al-Ghazaya began at around 8:00 am (0600 GMT) in a two-pronged attack from the east and west that appeared to have drived loyalists out, as the town was deserted when they entered. However, ammunition was found stored in a school and other public villages in the town. The rebels then moved on to Umm Al-Far and bombarded it, blowing up a munitions dump. The hamlet fell around 5:00 pm, and rebels, mostly on foot, were moving through the streets to secure them a half hour later. The capture of Al-Ghazaya, being used as a base by Gaddafi troops to fire rockets onto rebel forces in nearby Nalut town, followed a defiant speech by the Libyan leader that he is ready to "sacrifice" to ensure victory in the civil war. The early morning assault from the surrounding mountains was part of the offensive by the rebels aimed at marching on Tripoli and toppling Gaddafi. Initial attacks had begun on Wednesday, a military source told an AFP correspondent in Zintan, in the Nalut region of western Libya. Before the rebels overran the town, an AFP correspondent watching through binoculars saw dozens of army vehicles pulling out in the face of rebel artillery fire from heights overlooking Al-Ghazaya. The mountainous Nafusa region has seen some of the fiercest fighting between loyalist troops and rebel forces. The two sides had fought their way into a stalemate five months after the start of a popular uprising that quickly turned into a civil war. The Libyan leader controls much of the west and his Tripoli stronghold, while the opposition holds the east from its bastion in Benghazi. A defiant Gaddafi said late Wednesday he is ready to "sacrifice" to defeat the rebels after they warned the deadline for him to step down and stay in Libya has expired. "We are not afraid. We will defeat them," Gaddafi said in an audio message, referring to the NATO alliance and the insurgents. "We will pay the price with our lives, our women and our children. We are ready to sacrifice (ourselves) to defeat the enemy," he added in a message to loyalists in the town of Zaltan, also near the Tunisian border. Gaddafi also called on his partisans to march on Nafusa and urged his opponents to surrender. "Traitors, surrender your weapons... Choose: death or surrender," Gaddafi told the rebels, adding that without support from NATO the insurgents could not have seized the strategic mountainous region. Meanwhile, Britain gave a major boost to the rebels by inviting them to take over the Libyan embassy in London, which the Gaddafi regime slammed, while Washington said it was examining a request by the rebels to recognise the insurgents. In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Wednesday his country has expelled all remaining staff at the Libyan embassy and recognised the NTC as Libya's sole legitimate government. The Libyan rebel movement installed ambassadors in Paris and London on Thursday, formalising ties with its main allies in the fight to topple ruler Moamer Gaddafi from power in Tripoli.

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